The Board - Layout
Quite obviously the ECS Z77H2-AX features a gold and black color scheme, with all of the heatsinks, capacitors, I/O ports, chokes and the socket retention mechanism in gold, and everything else in black. Although that's a lot of gold, in person it's not so overbearing as to be too much gold, but it definitely makes a strong impression. The rear of the board is pretty basic, but it's nice to note the heatsinks are attached with screws, another little touch that goes a long way towards making this the "ultimate motherboard" as ECS claims on the included "Gold Ticket".
The socket is surrounded on three sides by large, thick gold heatsinks, but it's all positioned in such a way as to not interfere with the majority of aftermarket cooling options out there. And yes, that heatsink just above the PCIe slots does have something under it, and isn't just a passive radiator connected via a heatpipe to the cooler for the Intel Z77 Express PCH, which sits under the heatsink shown in the second image above.
The ECS Z77H2-AX features seven total expansion slots; two PCIe 2.0 x1 slots, two PCI slots, and three PCIe 3.0 x16 slots. There are four DIMM slots, which together support DIMMs rated up to 2800 MHz when everclocking, and allow a maximum capacity of 32 GB combined. There's also a mSATA port just below the PCH cooler, next to which you can see a Texas Instruments TUSB7320 USB 3.0 controller which provides connectivity for the front panel USB 3.0 header.
The backplate has four ports each of USB 2.0 and USB 3.0, two eSATA ports, and three different network ports; a regular RJ-45 LAN port, a WiFi header, and finally a Bluetooth header to ensure that every aspect of I/O connectivity is covered. There is a single HDMI port mated with an analogue VGA port for video connectivity, and the audio stack features five analogue ports with an optical digital audio port added in too. There are just six internal SATA headers, two of which are SATA 3.0 Gb/s, while the other four are SATA 6 Gb/s, but only two of those are connected to the Intel Z77 Express PCH. There are just three fan headers total, and only one can be controlled from within the BIOS.
On the bottom the board has all the usual pin headers; a front panel block as well as USB 3.0 and USB 2.0, but there's only a single internal USB 2.0 header here, with audio and serial port headers found on the left-hand side. I'm quite used to finding several USB 2.0 headers on a board's bottom edge, but seldom are these internal headers used, so it's not of much consequence to me personally, but those with cases that have more than two USB 2.0 front panel ports are going to find themselves a bit short on connectivity.